I continue to hear the complaints over and over again...people refusing to celebrate Christmas, boycotting one of the two most important holidays of the year because it's all getting to be too much. Too much commercialism, too much focus on Santa Claus, too much spending, too many carols playing too early in the year, that it's not really the actual birthday of Jesus, that's it's become about all things except the real thing...its. just. overwhelming. And just like that, Jesus seems to be lost. Lost in the hustle and bustle of all things holiday, and the Lord Himself appears to be forgotten. The meaning of Christmas stolen by secularists and retailers. Left to only the religious to remember.
I stare at the Christmas tree and the decorations all around. Is this what some people are left to believe? That one cannot participate in Christmas because Christmas is out of control? That taking away Christmas is the way to fix what's broken about it? My heart is heavy...and I think I know why.
I think I know because I think I understand how one can blame something as wonderful as Christmas for all things chaotic and ruined when it's not the fault of that thing at all. Christmas isn't the problem. What fallen humanity has done to Christmas IS! Christmas itself and it's most reverent meaning hasn't changed. How we as residents of this crazy world see it has changed and that's the real issue. We no longer view Christmas as the sacred time of remembrance that it once was intended to be. Oh, we sing the songs, we decorate, we still gather with family and friends, we bake cookies, we go to special church services...but is all this out of mere tradition? If we were to seriously look at what we've made this season out to be, we should honestly be ashamed of what we've turned it into. Starting with Black Friday, we blow past Thanksgiving and are onto buying for Christmas the very day after we've all supposedly counted our blessings. After we've theoretically reflected on how grateful we are, we turn right around and push into stores with money flowing out of our pockets so we can simply grab a good deal. And that's how we start out our Christmas season. We rush around from one even to the next, checking stuff off our to-do list...eventually ending up on December 25th with a pile of gifts, and the love of family. But where did the Savior end up in all this? God forgive us...we left Him out.
Yes, maybe we did sing the carols about His birth, but did we pause to think of the great anticipation of His coming to Bethlehem? Did we consider the lostness of our sinful condition through Adam and why we needed saving? Did we even take time to begin to grasp the history-altering event that took place in that manger-birth? Because there is so much more to Christmas than traditions and celebration. I'm all for the rejoicing and the decorating and the happiness. But I think God wants us to "do Christmas" differently.
This year, I've taken a different approach. Thanks to the reading of two inspiring books, I've been determined to see Christ through the carols, to experience Jesus in my traditions. To leave the wildness of the season for a more peaceful and God-centered way. For starters, I did most of my Christmas shopping in October so that I wasn't buying stuff at Christmas. Then, when the season started, I began reading through a devotional book called "Christ in the Carols" where I'd read a carol a day and the subsequent reflection. I was stunned at how much I gained theologically by simply reading the words to the carols I know and love so well. Then, I also began reading a book called "Child in the Manger" which has been a mind-blowing read for me and has opened to be countless layers of the Christmas story that I've never considered. I have felt my heart opened in worship as Christ has been welcomed into it, humble manger of sorts that it is. Filled with the still-lingering depths of sin, I still feel myself beholding the glory of God. I feel my heart being broken into praise with the angels and, somehow, God is drawing nearer.
And I see here that this is how we can change how the world sees Christmas. Not by joining in all its commercialism, nor even by boycotting it altogether. Actually, we can change it by slowing down and looking for Christ in it once again. Of course, Jesus is not wholly lost from it - many sincere believers still hold the true "reason for the season" dear. Yet I think that we've lost our notice of the miraculousness of this incredible event and why it forever altered human history and eternal destiny. When Christmas is seen in light of the cross, when we view Jesus as more than just a baby and instead as the Lord of Heaven who humbled Himself for our sakes, then it all changes. You re-gain your awe. You are lost in wonder, love, and praise. You feel compelled to break into worship with the shepherds. To rejoice in all things holy and divine laid aside for redemption's sake. The hymn-writer Charles Wesley said it well:
"Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die,
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth."
For unto us this Savior was born - unto us weak ones, broken ones, sinful ones this Jesus has been given. And because He eventually bore the cross for our sakes, we can call Him "...Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6-7). He became poor for our sakes so that we would become rich. He gave up His royal place so that He could walk among us, identify with us, be Himself for us. When you realize what love drove Him to do, you can't wait to celebrate what an incredible God He is. You see Christmas as His celebration. It isn't for the industries, or the pundits, or the the worldly. Christmas is a holiday for God's people. And we ought to change how people see it because we have the spirit of Christmas - Jesus Himself - inside of us every single day of the year.
So deck the halls, be merry and full of cheer. Hug the ones you love and take in the special miracle-moments that make up this time of year. Enjoy your traditions, but in all of that - remember that Christ is the fountain from whom all blessings flow. So let there be joy to the world - the Lord has come!